Mort Mather Author Writer Organic Farmer Philosopher Thinker Restauranteur

How to improve your life and save the world.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How Congress can cut spending

Line item expense reduction
Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton both asked for line item veto power in State of the Union addresses but the Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional because it circumvents a power vested in Congress. I suggest the concept should be used by Congress to decrease federal spending. Here’s how it might work:
Wire the House Chamber with “voting” buttons that will record each congress person’s vote. When a button is pushed by the congress person their vote is recorded and available to anyone to see so that a voter or a newspaper can easily find out how any individual has voted. The total is displayed in the Chamber at the time of the vote.
Both Houses of Congress meet together as for the State of the Union. They are informed beforehand on what will be voted on that day giving lobbyists and voters time to fill their ears with biased information or, less cynically, to inform themselves more fully on the issue. There will be no discussion or debate during the meeting. A question will be projected on a screen for all including the television cameras to see and then the vote will be taken. The results of the vote, totals, will be projected for all to see. Television pundits can comment to their audience.
An Example: Congress and the media are told the farm bill will be up for spending cut review in a week. On the fateful day Representative and Senators take their seats and log into the network that they are present. The issue flashes on the screen:
Crop Insurance
Over the past decade taxpayers have paid $59.5 billion
Your vote”
A.     no change
B.     eliminate for wealthiest farmers
C.     reduce premium subsidy
D.     eliminate federal subsidy of crop insurance

If the vote for A or D is 60% or more that vote carries. If B receives 41% or more another vote screen is displayed:
            Define “wealthiest farmers.
A.     grossing over $5 million annually
B.     grossing over $2.5 million annually
C.     grossing over $1 million annually
D.     grossing over $500,000 annually
If C receives 41% or more:
            Reduce premium from current 62% to:
A.     50 %
B.     40%
C.     25%
D.     10%
The congressional delegation from Rhode Island might vote to eliminate the subsidy while the delegation from Nebraska will most likely vote for no change. This system is far from perfect since lobbyists might well tell the Rhode Island folks that they will make a significant contribution to their campaigns if they vote no change. Perhaps we should allow them to vote for a secret vote. If the substantive vote was one their constituents, we the people, didn’t like, someone running against them would have them on record as voting for a secret vote.
This is a rough proposal with room for refinement but the basic idea is the best shot we have at making serious budget cuts. Both Republicans and Democrats have refused to get specific about budget cuts because any specific cuts will stir up a hive of reaction and no elected person wants to stick their hand in the hive.
I do think that corporate welfare could be cut without loosing votes--gross contributions from the corporations that now unduly influence our congresspeople but not votes. I would sure like to know if my congressional delegation voted to keep subsidizing Exxon just to name one of the very profitable companies our tax dollars subsidize.


Scott Supak said...

I agree that this kind of corporate welfare should be ended, but more for free market reasons than for budgetary ones, because the facts are that our budget isn't really the problem right now, unemployment is. We should be spending more on infrastructure, and yes, less on subsidies to big ag, pharma, and carbon fuel industries. In the short and medium term, deficits aren't a problem, as the interest on the debt is quite low by historical standards, because interest rates are actually negative right now (people will actually pay us to keep their money safe). In fact, it would be cheaper to borrow money and spend it now than it would be to tax it and spend it in the future, which is yet another reason we should be investing in our green future and modernizing our infrastructure (putting people back to work in the mean time, increasing growth, which will increase revenues and lower the deficit).

In the long term, our big debt problem stems from the fact that we pay more than twice as much per person for health care than the rest of the developed world. If we paid even close to what everyone else pays, we'd have surpluses as far as we could see, even with these idiotic corporate welfare payments staying at current levels.

For more on this, see Dean Baker's free e-book, The End of Loser Liberalism.

Mort said...

You are right. Unfortunately neither Congress nor the President are on the same page. It would be wonderful if those folks would follow your path or mine rather than wasting their time and our patience playing kick-the-can.